Getting started on your new Microsoft Surface RT

So, you've just unpacked your brand new Microsoft Surface with Windows RT. What now? Where do you start? Here's my list of things to do and hopefully it helps you.

Step 1 – Choose the right Microsoft account / Windows Live ID

"Microsoft account" is the new name given to "Windows Live ID". You might know it as your "Hotmail account" or your "Xbox Live login".

If you have a Windows Phone, then it's a good idea to use the same account that your phone is associated with. Then you will get all the goodness of a common SkyDrive and roaming settings (for apps that support it).

To find which account you're using on your Windows Phone:

  1. On Start, flick left to the App list, tap Settings , and then tap Email+accounts.
  2. Look for the first email account in the list that is named "Microsoft account" or "Windows Live".

Tip: If you renamed your primary account to something other than "Microsoft account" look for the first account that is listed with the Windows logo next to it.

Step 2 – Secure your Surface

With Windows 8, you no longer have to create a separate logon to your machine. You can just login using your Microsoft account and password. If you haven't set this up already, follow these steps to set it up:

  1. From the Settings charm (swipe from the right of the screen), tap or click Change PC settings (at the very bottom of the screen).
  2. In the left pane, tap or click Users.
  3. Tap or click Switch to a Microsoft account and follow the instructions.


Create a picture password

One of the things that gets tiresome pretty quickly on a touch device, is having to type in your complex password all the time. This is easily solved by creating a picture password.


If you want to know more about picture passwords, see the following blog posts on the Building 8 blog: Signing in with a picture password and Optimizing picture password security

Step 3 – Apply latest Windows Updates

On the Surface RT, this is a critical step. The December 2012 updates include a firmware update that dramatically improves battery life. Also, since the Surface ships with the "Preview" version of Office 2013, you will need to download the update to the final version.

In total, it will be about 700MB of updates and one or two reboots – so it's a good idea if you are connected to a fast network and do it when you have some time to spare. Since this is such a large update, it's a good idea to do it proactively rather than wait for Windows to automatically do it for you.

  1. From the Settings charm (swipe from the right of the screen), tap or click Change PC settings (at the very bottom of the screen).
  2. In the left pane, scroll to the bottom and tap or click Windows Update.
  3. Tap or click Check for updates now.
  4. Repeat the process until there are no more updates to install.


    Step 4 – Download a Windows theme

    A theme is a combination of desktop background pictures, window colours, and sounds. Of course you can customise these things yourself, but it's very convenient to just apply a theme that catches your eye.

    Step 5 – Apps from the Windows Store

    Updating all your apps to the latest versions

    If there are updates available for any of your installed apps, then the Store app Live Tile will have a little number on it, indicating the number of updates available.

    • Open the Store app and click the 'X updates available' text in the top right corner.

    Re-installing apps that you have on another Windows 8 PC

    A convenient feature of the Windows Store app lets you see which apps that you have previously installed on another Windows 8 PC. From this screen, you can then select all the apps and install them on your new Surface.

    1. On the Start screen, tap or click Store to open the Windows Store.
    2. Swipe down from the top edge of the screen, and then tap Your apps. (If you're using a mouse, point to the top of the screen, right-click, and then click Your apps.)
    3. Choose the apps you want to install, and then tap or click Install (from the bottom of the screen).

    Essential apps for your Surface RT 

    OneNote – Although your Surface comes with the Desktop version of OneNote pre-installed, there is a Metro Windows Store version of OneNote available from the Store. It's pretty much the app for using your Surface in meeting to take notes. (I used it to draft this blog post, before copying and pasting over to Word 2013).

    Lync – If you have access to Lync either via your work or an Office 365 subscription, then you'll want to download the Lync app. You can use it to have IM conversations join video conferences and make phone calls. If you allow it, it can run in the background all the time while you are using your Surface.

    Skype – Now that Skype supports signing in with a Microsoft account, if you have logged on to Windows using a Microsoft account, it will automatically sign you in. This is one of the reasons why it's so important to get your Microsoft accounts in order.

    Xbox SmartGlass – lets you control your Xbox from your Surface and view extra context about movies and games. See the Xbox SmartGlass Walkthrough video for more details.

    Wordament – built by two Microsoft employees in their spare time, Wordament is just like Boggle – but you compete with hundreds of other players on the same board at the same time. Caution: it's addictive, especially once you start unlocking Xbox Live achievements for it (try playing in your non-native language for some fun..)

    Step 6 - Configure your mail account(s)

    Let's start with the bad news. There is no Outlook for Surface RT and the built-in Mail app is functional, but not great. The good news is that it supports multiple accounts (Exchange/ and it integrates with the lock screen to show you unread messages.

    One of the things I like to do to my email accounts is customise the email signatures:

    1. On Start, tap or click Mail.
    2. Swipe in from the right edge of the screen, and then tap Settings.
      (If you're using a mouse, point to the upper-right corner of the screen, move the mouse pointer down, and then click Settings.)
    3. Tap or click Accounts.
    4. Tap or click the account you want to change the signature for.
    5. Decide how you want to change your signature:
    6. Set Use a signature to either On or Off.
    7. If you're using a signature, change the text. At this time, there aren't any options to add images or change font settings (like color or type) in your signature.

    Step 7 – HomeGroup

    A homegroup is a group of PCs on a home network that can share files and printers. Using a homegroup makes sharing easier. You can share pictures, music, videos, documents, and printers with other people in your homegroup.

    One feature that existed in previous versions of Windows is HomeGroup. It's well worth the effort to set up the computers in your house on the same HomeGroup. I've never quite realised the benefits of HomeGroup until recently (see File History on the next step). Once you have connected your Surface to your home WiFi network, follow these instructions:

    Step 8 – Continuous backups with File History

    Have you thought about a backup strategy for your Surface? Obviously if you're storing all your documents/pictures/notebooks in your SkyDrive, then you will have a copy up there. But what about all those other files on your Surface?

    This is where File History comes in. It's a continuous backup of all the files in your Library folders. It keeps multiple versions as well, in case you need to go back to a previous version.

    The beauty is when you have both HomeGroup and File History configured. Your Surface can continuously and automatically backup your files to a HomeGroup PC when you're connected at home. The HomeGroup PC can also have an external USB drive connected (with BitLocker-To-Go encryption), so then you have a continuous, secure backup of your home PC and Surface.



    Step 9 – Accessorize

    If you're planning on watching a bunch of movies on a long plane trip or you just feel comfortable having more storage, you should invest in a large, fast microSD card. The Surface RT supports up to 64GB, which makes the SanDisk Ultra 64GB Class 10 microSD a good choice: 

    Personally, I like the safety blanket of a real mouse. A touchscreen is great and the touchpad on the keyboard is great as well, but for high-precision or mouse-intensive work, a real mouse is nice to have in your bag.

    Most of the Microsoft mice that have come out in the last few years have had little USB dongles called "Nano transceivers". There's nothing wrong with those and they will all work with the Surface – but it does mean that you have to put the transceiver in your single USB port. A nicer looking option is to get one of the new Microsoft Wedge mice that use Bluetooth – no dongles.

    Step 10 – Start building apps

    If you have any sort of interest in building apps for the Windows Store, you'll want to do two things:

    1. Start looking at all the great training content online
    2. Become a Windows Store developer and reserve your app names

    Although you can't write apps directly on the Surface, you can deploy and debug apps on your Surface from your development PC. See the following links:

    And of course, if you want to track your work and store your code somewhere, you can sign up for free to


    Comments (1)
    1. Nice one GH!

      Only thing I'd add is to make sure you apply optional updates as well, especially the Office update.

    Comments are closed.

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